Voters in Georgia will head to the polls on Tuesday after two months of hard-fought campaigning for the closely watched Senate runoff elections on January 6. The outcome will decide which party holds the majority in the Senate, and so determine how effectively President-elect Joe Biden will be able to implement his legislative agenda.
Republican incumbent Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler are facing well-funded Democratic opponents, Jon Ossoff and Reverend Raphael Warnock. Georgia was a critical state in the presidential election, and was narrowly won by Mr. Biden, a result that was affirmed again and again by an initial count and two additional recounts.
President Trump has zeroed in on the state in his fruitless effort to overturn the election results with baseless claims of fraud. In a phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Saturday, audio of which was obtained by CBS News, Mr. Trump attempted to pressure Raffesnperger to "find" more than 11,000 votes so he could win the state.
"The people of Georgia are angry, the people in the country are angry," Mr. Trump can be heard saying on the audio recording. "And there's nothing wrong with saying that, you know, um, that you've recalculated."
Partisans on both sides are hoping Mr. Biden's unexpected win will motivate voters to turn out in the high-profile runoffs, which have already broken turnout records.
The balance of the Senate is currently 50 Republicans to 48 Democrats. Should Ossoff and Warnock win their races, Democrats will have a razor-thin 50-50 majority, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris breaking any tie. This would give Democrats control of the House, Senate, and the White House, meaning Mr. Biden's priorities could more easily be implemented by a cooperative Congress.
Tuesday marks the second time Perdue and Loeffler will square off against Ossoff and Warnock. Perdue, who was up for reelection, was unable to reach the 50% threshold on November 3 election that would have enabled him to avoid a runoff. Loeffler, who was appointed to fill a seat vacated by Senator Johnny Isakson in 2019, was challenged by 20 other candidates in the special election. Although Warnock won the plurality of votes on November 3, no candidate received a majority, which also resulted in a runoff.
Millions of Georgians voted early or by absentee ballot ahead of the presidential election, and many have chosen to do so ahead of the runoffs as well. More than 3 million Georgians have voted in the runoff through the end of early voting. Two million of those votes were early in-person votes and nearly one million are mail-in ballots, according to the Georgia Secretary of State. Data analyzed by Georgia Votes shows more than 115,000 people voted early in the runoffs who didn't vote in November.
The Democratic candidates have a fundraising advantage after a massive, record-breaking haul in the third quarter. In a filing released on December 24, the Ossoff and Warnock campaigns revealed they had each received over $100 million between mid-October and mid-December. Republicans, however, are getting substantial help from outside groups in January.
However, it's unclear whether campaign dollars will translate to votes. Many Democratic Senate candidates outraised their opponents last year, but Democrats only flipped two Senate seats.
And despite the Democratic fundraising advantage, Republicans and their allies have outspent Democrats in advertising. GOP candidates and third party groups have spent $279 million, while Democratic candidates and groups have spent $234 million, according to Kantar/CMAG data.
Both Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump are expected to travel to Georgia on January 5 to rev up support for their candidates. Loeffler and Perdue have tied themselves closely to Mr. Trump, who refuses to acknowledge he lost the election.
Perdue has been forced off the campaign trail in its final stretch. He said on December 31 that he was going into quarantine after coming into close contact with someone from the campaign who tested positive for COVID-19, according to his campaign. Perdue and his wife tested negative on New Year's Eve, but went into quarantine based on advice from his doctor and according to CDC guidelines.
The Republican senators have had to navigate a fine line between acknowledging some issues with the November election, but still persuading Republicans to show up to vote in the runoffs.
"If you're mad about November then fight. Fight with us," Perdue told a crowd in Henry County last week. "(President Trump's) coming Monday night for one reason: to remind people no matter what you think about November we have to hold the line to protect everything we accomplished in the last four years."
The Republican candidates have framed their campaigns as a last line of defense against Democrats enacting their policies, which they frequently characterize as "radical" and "socialism."
"We're the firewall to stopping socialism, we have to hold the line right here in Georgia, the nation is counting on us," Loeffler told a crowd in metro Atlanta on New Year's Eve. "I know you feel the pressure. The pressure's on."
Republicans supporting Loeffler and Perude have echoed those concerns about the Democratic agenda.
"The things that they can push through are devastating to our freedoms as Americans," said Pat Quigley, 80, after hearing Loeffler speak.
Later that day, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina came to Georgia to campaign for the Republicans and laid out the GOP's plan if they win at least one of the runoffs.
"We've got a chance here in a few days to make sure that the most radical agenda in the history of American politics dies in the U.S. Senate. That anything coming out of Pelosi's House comes to the Senate and we kill it dead," Graham told the crowd in Gainesville.
The Democratic candidates have made an equally urgent pitch to their base, warning that all of the policies they want to enact, from COVID relief to healthcare, the economy and criminal justice reform, are at risk if they lose just one of the races.
"If Mitch McConnell retains control of the United States Senate, he will try to do to Joe and Kamala exactly like he tried to do to President Obama," Ossoff said at a joint rally with Warnock in DeKalb County last week. "They will block the COVID relief that we need. They will block the $15 minimum wage that we deserve as Americans. They will block the student debt relief that young people in this country are crying out for."
"You need United States Senators who are focused on the people and not focused on themselves," Warnock told the crowd at the drive-in rally.
Ossoff trailed Perdue by more than 80,000 votes in November, but he told CBSN's Lana Zak on Sunday that he believed the Democrats have "movement energy." He insisted he wouldn't be a "partisan soldier" but said Democrats need to check Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's power.
First published on January 4, 2021 / 2:00 PM
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